Northwest Airlines workers fear for jobs in merger with non-union Delta


Coming off work, Northwest Airlines workers in their gray uniforms with red and white reflective stripes attend a late-night union meeting April 28 at the Eagles Club near the airport. They look tired. The 11 p.m. meeting lasts until 1 a.m., the day’s fourth informational meeting for members of Local 1833 of the International Association of Machinists.

The IAM represents 12,500 Northwest Airlines workers: ticket agents, baggage handlers, and other ground workers. What happens to their jobs, they worry, if Northwest’s proposed merger with larger, largely non-union Delta proceeds?

At an April 25 hearing, Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-55A) chastised Northwest for meeting only with the airline’s pilots’ union to discuss the merger, but not its other unions. Lillie, a Northwest baggage handler, is a member of IAM Local 1833. “We have not been at the table. We have not been involved. We have not even been at the kiddie table.”

“We are firmly convinced by their conduct that Northwest intends to sacrifice many of its employees to make this merger go with the largely and adamantly non-union Delta Airlines,” warned Stephen Gordon, president of IAM District Lodge 143, testifying April 29 before the Commerce and Labor Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives. The IAM is the union with the largest number of Northwest workers.

The prospect of job cuts is particularly abhorrent, Gordon said, because pay cuts imposed on IAM members helped Northwest emerge from bankruptcy. IAM members sacrificed $190 million per year for five years for the future of the airline, Gordon said, not to facilitate a merger.

The proposed merger would create the largest airline in the world, analysts say.

Viewed from Minnesota, however, the “merger” looks more like an acquisition.

The new, combined airline would be called Delta. The Eagan headquarters of Northwest would shift to Delta headquarters in Atlanta. And current Delta CEO Richard Anderson would become CEO of the merged airline.

The merger also could imperil the future of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, now a major hub for Northwest, and bring the prospect of reduced service for the Twin Cities.

In addition, Gordon warned in a letter to union members, “it will come as no surprise if airline executives attempt to manipulate the merger process to reduce or eliminate the presence of union contracts at the combined carrier.”

Minnesota House and Senate committees held hearings in recent weeks to question airline executives about Northwest commitments to the State of Minnesota — including jobs — and to seek assurances that Delta will keep those commitments.

“We have a pledge from Delta there will be no layoffs of frontline employees,” Ben Hirst, Northwest vice president told legislators April 25.

“We’re proud of that.”

But Northwest Airlines, warned IAM’s Gordon, “[has] left a trail of broken promises throughout this State and if this merger is approved, there will be many more to come.”

The proposed merger is primarily a decision for federal regulators and for Congress.

The IAM urges union members and the public to contact their members of Congress to voice opposition to the proposed Northwest-Delta merger.

Visit and look for the link “Say No to Mergers” to send a message.